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10. Waukegan Public Library

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Waukegan Public Library

Left to right: Diana Alvey, Richard Lee, and Mrs. Obama. Click image for a larger view.

Waukegan Public Library recognized a critical need for fresh, effective approaches to promoting literacy across the community. Waukegan has a Hispanic population that is three times higher than the state average, with 55 percent of residents speaking a language other than English. The Library has evolved as a core component of Waukegan’s broader community learning and service infrastructure with a wide array of programs to put individuals on the Path to Learning and Literacy and helping residents build essential communication skills. A key initiative is the Promotoras Ambassador Program – empowering an outreach worker to be responsible for raising awareness about library resources in the Hispanic community and understanding the needs of Spanish speakers. One of the library’s first initiatives was to create a culturally sensitive Conversational ESL Program that incorporates relevant curriculum that places the learner at the center to ensure his or her success in daily life. After only one year, 255 students have participated in the Conversational ESL program, with most moving on to a GED program.

"To me, a library is effective when it provides every citizen with the tools they need to be successful," said Richard Lee, executive director of the Waukegan Public Library. "At the Waukegan Public Library, we no longer measure our success by the number of books we check out, but by the relevant services and resources we offer to the community that put them on a path to success. We are honored that our hard work has been recognized by a national organization that promotes libraries and museums as strong community anchors."

ommunity Member: Diana Alvey was born in Mexico and came to the United States with her family when she was three years old. Neither of her parents, nor her brothers and sisters, spoke any English, but shortly after arriving in America, Diana’s mother began English as a Second Language classes as a way to help the family adjust to their new home. As an adult, Diana volunteers her time at the Waukegan Public Library as an ESL tutor to help others on their language journey. Diana also volunteers in the library’s signature immigrant program as a Promotora, working with the Latino community to identify obstacles that limit success. She has supported students and helped them gain confidence to pursue job promotions, attend parent teacher conferences at school and advocate for their children, and describe a symptom to their doctor. "My library card has always been one of my most prized possessions. It is my ticket to anywhere and everywhere," remarked Diana.

Praise for Waukegan Public Library:

I am thrilled to join Illinois’ Tenth Congressional District community and the entire country in congratulating Waukegan Public Library on receiving such a distinguished honor. The Institute of Museum and Library Services awards the National Medal to just 10 institutions each year, and Waukegan Public Library’s long history of dedicated and innovative service, from its English Language Learning classes to its Homework Help program, earned it this most deserved distinction.
U.S. Representative Brad Schneider (Ill.)

Some of my favorite childhood moments were spent losing myself in a book at the library, discovering wonderful stories and developing a lifelong love of reading. These days, public libraries are not just home to book collections, but also serve as vibrant centers of culture and technology. Congratulations to the Waukegan Public Library for receiving the 2013 National Medal for Museum and Library Service and for continuing to give both children and adults in its community a place to read and discover.
U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (Ill.)

The Waukegan Public Library should be honored to receive the 2013 National Medal for Museum and Library Service in recognition of the outstanding services the library provides to the residents of this growing community. This award is the nation’s highest honor bestowed on museums and libraries for their service to the community. I’d like to congratulate the library and its tremendous staff for the work they do to make our community a great place.
Illinois State Senator Terry Link